Proposed potash mine remains in legal limbo


EVART — A company's plan to mine a mineral that's used as an agricultural fertilizer remains in legal limbo nearly two years after its CEO said the region's mineral deposits could be worth $65 billion to the state's economy.

Theodore Pagano, CEO of Michigan Potash Operating LLC, said in March 2018 that mining potassium chloride, commonly known as potash, is a "transformative, generational opportunity" for Osceola County.

However, the mining permits for the company's proposal are being challenged by a grassroots environmental group, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Michigan Potash wants to begin operating a potash mine on its property in Evart Township. The company intends to mine about 1 million tons of potash annually from that location. Potash reserves in the area could sustain that amount of annual extraction for 150 years, before even further exploring the area for potentially more, Pagano noted.

Ken Ford with the environmental group argues that the company “could not have picked a worse location” to mine.

"It’s in the middle of four streams. It’s 200 yards from the largest freshwater marsh in Osceola County,” he said.

Michigan Potash has proposed using solution mining — wells not unlike typical oil and gas fracking wells. That process would inject brine water thousands of feet underground to dissolve potash, bring it to the surface, and then dry and restore it. The operation also would produce marketable, table-grade salt.

Brine water waste would be disposed of deep underground via disposal wells.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, or EGLE, last year approved permits for eight brine production wells and three disposal wells for the potash mine, over the objections of some local residents and environmental groups. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also authorized permits for the solution mining and disposal wells in 2017.

Pagano disputes environmentalist concerns that the project might foul groundwater or surface water, saying that historic potash mining nearby operated from 1980 to 2013 “without incident to surrounding wetlands for over 30 years.”

Citizens groups hope a review panel will overturn the permit approvals for the mine this spring. One group member, Doug Miller, lives next to a marsh that the potash mining could impact.

“By permitting these very expensive wells, (EGLE) has, in essence, permitted the entire project, all without requiring the company to do any environmental testing or studies,” Miller said.

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